Iraqi security forces fired live bullets and tear gas against protesters in Baghdad on Thursday, despite a curfew that was announced in the Iraqi capital hours earlier amid deadly violence gripping the country and anti-government protests that killed 19 people this week.
In a desperate attempt to quell the protests, which were in part spurred by woes over deteriorating economy and lack of jobs and services, authorities have cut Internet access across much of Iraq.
Before dawn, explosions were heard inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government offices and foreign embassies. The U.S.-led coalition said an investigation is underway, adding that no coalition forces or assets were hit.
So far, at least 19 people have been reported killed and hundreds have been wounded since the violence and clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators first erupted on Tuesday.
Ten people were killed late Wednesday in the southern cities of Nasriyah and Amara. The dead were protesters and one policeman, according to security officials.
The protests, concentrated in Baghdad and in predominantly Shiite areas of southern Iraq are mostly spontaneous, without political leadership, and staged by disenchanted youth demanding jobs, improved services, such as electricity and water, and an end to Iraq’s endemic corruption.
They have organized the protests on social media and have gradually escalated their demands and now want the government to resign. No political party has so far joined the campaign.
The demonstrations and the unrest are the most serious challenge to Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s year-old government, which has been caught in the middle of U.S.-Iran tensions in the Middle East. Iraq is allied with both countries and hosts thousands of U.S. troops, as well as powerful paramilitary forces allied with Iran.
The curfew was announced early Thursday following a meeting of Iraq’s top leaders to discuss anti-government protests that have engulfed the country.
Authorities say the curfew is meant to “protect general peace” and protect protesters from “infiltrators” who committed attacks against security forces and public property. It excludes travelers to and from the Baghdad airport and Iraqi Airways said flights were operating as scheduled.